The Bird Tribunal, by Agnes Ravatn (translated by Rosie Hedger), is a psychological thriller set on the edge of a remote fjord in Norway. The two main characters, Sigurd Bagge and Allis Hagtorn, each have secrets they are struggling to escape. They seek solace in seclusion, hoping for eventual redemption. Their pasts hover over and haunt each action they take.
Sigurd lives alone in the traditional wooden villa where he has spent his entire life. Allis arrives to take up an advertised position helping to bring order to his neglected garden. She prepares his meals and carries out simple housekeeping tasks. He tells her that his wife, Nor, is away, giving no indication when she will return. Despite their proximity he maintains a distant, steely silence. He gives instructions but shares little else.
Allis has run away from a scandal and initially finds the solitude of her new position a balm. She is content with the detachment her employer insists on, but over time curiosity and loneliness make her long for a greater connection. She works hard at the tasks assigned to her, learning as she goes along. Eventually she becomes frustrated at Sigurd’s refusal to share anything of himself.
As if realising she may leave him, Sigurd starts to share wine, time and, eventually, conversation. Fuelled by alcohol and darkness they reveal aspects of their pasts. Morning often as not brings regrets although rarely acknowledged. The advance and retreat of Sigmund’s willingness to share further vexes Allis, as does her awkwardness in his presence.
There remains a brittleness in their relationship that fractures under the slightest pressure. I wondered at the characters, their desolation and potential for psychosis.
The short, precise chapters weave a web of foreboding from the off. Each plot thread offers further detail whilst in the dark corners lurk unseen threats. As Allis tiptoes around the taciturn Sigurd there is the sense of an ominous reveal biding its time. The journey thrums with unease as it spirals towards a menacing denouement.
The setting is used to great effect as are the seasons. Locked rooms in the house are opened, the forest is both a blanket from the world and a threat. Allis is given use of many of Nor’s possessions. Although absent, her presence is felt.
I ponder still who was the spider and who the fly. This tale left me chilled, but in the best possible way. The author has taken familiar activities and shrouded them in intrigue. This is a captivating, atmospheric read.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher.
This review is a stop on The Bird Tribunal Blog Tour. Do check out the other blogs taking part, detailed below.
The Bird Tribunal is published by Orenda Books and is available to buy now.